New outdoors store caters to enthusiasts

The Buffalo News

June 23, 2003

News Business Reporter

When Gander Mountain opens its new outdoor sports superstore in the City of Tonawanda on Friday, Bob Keicher will be there.

The Cheektowaga resident and head of New York's Safari Club International delegation will not only have found a store that caters specifically to him and the SCI's 3,000 or so regional members, he finally will have found the nesting place of that rarest of species: extra-long camouflage hunting pants for women.

"Nobody carries a decent supply of ladies' hunting clothes around here," he said. "It's like they're second-class citizens, or hunters rather."

Along with a location in Henrietta, which opened June 13, Gander Mountain is hoping to capture the attention of fishers, hunters, ATV riders and other outdoor enthusiasts in Western New York, giving them an alternative to catalogs and athletic superstores.

"We don't get into the stick and ball, or white sneaker market," said Jeff Bergman, vice president of marketing for Gander Mountain. "There's a high degree of outdoor enthusiasts in the Buffalo and Rochester-area markets. We saw a need we thought we could fill, and we're going to do so."

The Tonawanda store, which fills the former Ames Department store location at 880 Young Street, is one of three new larger-sized "superstores" that Gander has built recently, totaling 77,000 square feet compared to the chain's usual 30,000-square-foot stores.

The Tonawanda store will house a larger inventory and some newer features, including an ATV service station, a gunsmith shop that buys, refurbishes and resells firearms, an eight-lane archery range, and a fully-stocked bait station that will open at 5 a.m. to lure in early-morning casters. The larger size also means approximately 200 deer heads and other taxidermy will find space along the store's walls.

Just as important as capturing business from hunters is providing the hard-to-find gear for their wives and children, said Tim Stafford, the store's general manager. The store will offer hunting and fishing clothes specially made for women and children.

"We're seeing more families, down to even toddlers, going hunting as a family activity," said Stafford. "It's a growing market."

Mark McGranahan, who runs Sparky's Charters, said the store's region-specific bait shop will help casual fishers, who make up about 60 percent of his business, avoid the common mistakes of neophytes, like buying bait and lures for large mouth bass rather than Lake Erie's large population of the small mouth variety.

Like Dick's Sporting Goods and Galyan's Trading Company, which have sporting goods stores in the area, customers can obtain hunting and fishing licenses at Gander Mountain through the state Department of Environmental Conservation's computerized system.

Stafford believes the training level among his staff is what sets the store apart from Dick's, Galyan's and other stores that offer outdoor sports gear.

"These guys can tell you where to go, what to use, what's biting, what they're biting on," Stafford said. "They're all fishermen or hunters themselves. Nobody is going to tell you they don't know what you should buy."

The 120 to 130 employees at Gander Mountain have to know their stuff. When they applied for their jobs, they had to fill out an intensive survey of their knowledge of wilderness products, with questions like:

Along with meeting the needs of veteran of outdoor enthusiasts, the store attempts to make close ties between itself and local hunting and fishing clubs. Besides offering an open meeting "lodge," staff presentations to groups and sponsoring tournaments, the store is opening Thursday night to local clubs only, offering a 10 percent discount and turning another 10 percent of a club's purchases back to the group's fund balance.

Tom Marks, president of the Southtowns Walleye Association, said his group was eager to have an early bait shop and greater selection of goods available locally, rather than having to shop from a catalog or wholesaler. But, he said, he will still shop at Galyan's and Dick's to find deals.

Joan Hurley, senior vice president of communications for Galyan's Trading Company, said the wilderness sections of the Galyan's stores in Cheektowaga and Rochester could actually benefit from Gander Mountain's presence.

"When somebody else comes into the market like this, the expansion just creates awareness of the market and the products available, and ultimately benefits us," said Hurley. Galyan's thoroughly researches each market before opening a store, she said, and has focused its Galleria Mall store to serve Western New York's outdoors needs.

Representatives from Dick's Sporting Goods could not be reached for comment.

Stafford said the "flood of applications" was a good indicator of the general public's desire to see an outdoor sports store of Gander Mountain's kind in Western New York.

"People here can pick up a rifle, see how it feels, and then find out what kind of shot to use. You can't get that from a catalog," he said.